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Bay State mystery: Kennedy's plans for '88

Will `Teddy' run in 1988? You don't have to ask, `Teddy who?' or `Run for what?' Everyone from here to Seattle knows that '88 is a presidential election year. And a herd of would-be senatorial candidates in Massachusetts is waiting for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to announce his plans.

For the next year -- perhaps a bit longer -- US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy may be the most watched Democrat on the Massachusetts political scene.

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His every move will be studied and his every word sifted for a clue to his 1988 campaign plans. Will he run for president, seek reelection to the Senate, go in both directions, or retire from political office?

While in no hurry to close off any of these options, Mr. Kennedy is doing nothing to lessen speculation that his sights are on the White House. This was underscored recently when he pointed out that he has ``always said I'd like to be President some day.''

Although making it clear that no decision has been made or is likely to be made soon as to what his 1988 plans might be, Kennedy's remark must have been sweet music to the ears of would-be candidates to succeed him in the Senate.

Although there is nothing to prevent Kennedy from running for reelection to the Senate and at the same time going after the presidency, it seems unlikely he would do this. Certainly it would be difficult to conduct two campaigns at the same time. But beyond that a Kennedy reelection bid might be interpreted by voters across the nation as saying that he was not all that confident of reaching the White House, or perhaps even winning the Democratic Party nomination.

Thus, if a Kennedy-for-president push is in the offing, it seems unlikely he would make even an early, token gesture toward seeking a fifth full term in the Senate.

Several Bay State Democrats may already be smacking their political lips over what has to be viewed as the very real possibility of an open Senate chair, even though still three years down the electoral road.

James M. Shannon, who gave up his Fifth District congressional seat for what proved to be an unsuccessful try for the Democratic nomination for the commonwealth's other US Senate post last fall, would almost certainly try again were such an opportunity available.

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Other potential contenders for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in 1988 include Gov. Michael S. Dukakis; US Reps. Brian J. Donnelly, Barney Frank, and Edward J. Markey; state Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti; state Economic Affairs Secretary Evelyn F. Murphy; Massachusetts Secretary of State Michael J. Connolly, and maybe even Ted Kennedy's nephew, Joseph P. Kennedy II.

Young Joe Kennedy, the eldest son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, has never sought public office although he has been mentioned several times as a possible candidate for various offices, including state treasurer, US representative, and lieutenant governor.

As head of Citizens Energy Corporation, an nonprofit oil import firm that serves poor Massachusetts residents, he has gained substantial visibility throughout the state and, except for his uncle, is publicly the best known member of the family. .

With a Kennedy, even one who is untested politically, in the race the field of Democratic senatorial aspirants could be a lot thinner than otherwise might be the case.

Except for two years (1961-62), when the Senate seat was held by Benjamin Smith, a friend of President John F. Kennedy appointed to fill out the final two years of the newly-elected President's term, a Kennedy has occupied the post for the past 33 years.

Governor Dukakis clearly is very much at home in the Massachusetts executive chair and has every intention of seeking reelection next year to a term that would last through 1990. For this reason some doubt that he has any intention of running for the Senate in 1988 were Senator Kennedy to decide not to seek reelection.

On the other hand, the prospect of moving on to Washington and the opportunity to deal at the national level with some of the problems that have faced him and the commonwealth during his governorship might prove too challenging for Mr. Dukakis to pass up.

But any hint that he might not be fully committed to completing the gubernatorial term would hardly help him win reelection next year.

Regardless of what the long-range Dukakis pursuits may be, the governor has to be more than casually interested in who gets to be the state's next lieutenant governor. There can be little doubt he, like any other chief executive, would like to have a teammate with whom he could work comfortably and in whose charge he could leave the commonwealth reins. But it is increasingly doubtful that he will allow himself to be drawn into taking sides in what could be an especially hard-fought and potentially divisive campaign for the state's second-highest office.

Whether Governor Dukakis has any intention of moving on, it is something that is bound to come eventually. And, quite understandably, he would like to leave the state leadership with somebody who might share his concerns and goals.

Currently, however, there is no way he can pick his running mate for lieutenant governor and possibly eventual successor. Legislation toward that end has been under consideration on Beacon Hill in recent weeks, but it is questionable how far it will get, since it would close the door on the aspirations of several Democrats who are interested in the office.

Mr. Shannon has no intention of staying on the political sidelines. As lieutenant governor he would gain at least some measure of visibility and be in a position to either move up to governor or run for the Senate, should Senator Kennedy decide to move on.

Economic Affairs Secretary Evelyn F. Murphy, who came close to winning the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 1982, clearly is still interested in the office and perhaps the US Senate, too, should Kennedy leave his seat. Unlike most of the prominent would-be, or at least could-be, candidates for lieutenant governor, she has never held elective office. That possible liability, however, is offset by her current fairly high-visibility post in the Dukakis cabinet, and by the four years she served as state environmental affairs secretary during the first Dukakis term, 1975-78.

Others eyeing a chance to get onto the electoral ladder or to move up to a higher rung are former state Sen. Samuel Rotondi of Winchester, former state Rep. Lois G. Pines of Newton, both of whom ran for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 1982; and state Sens. Gerard D'Amico of Worcester and Patricia McGovern of Lawrence. This is the final edition of the weekly New England section. George B. Merry's weekly column, as well as coverage of important regional matters, will continue elsewhere in The Monitor.

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